What is Food Preparation? - Definition & Types

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  • 0:04 Food Preparation
  • 0:38 Cleaning
  • 1:45 Cooking
  • 3:12 Assembling
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Humans are the only living beings on Earth that do not exclusively eat food as it appears in nature. In this lesson, we'll look at the stages of food preparation and see what they mean to the culinary arts today.

Food Preparation

Across time and across cultures, food is one thing that unites us all - which is even all the more remarkable when you consider that humans are the only creatures on Earth that don't eat the majority of their food as they find it.

Sometimes out of necessity (as with many meats) and sometimes simply to enhance flavor, humans generally prepare their food before eating it. Food preparation is a broad topic, involving all of the steps that occur between obtaining raw ingredients and consuming them as food. It's something simplistic and complex, ubiquitous and artistic, personal and universal.


Food preparation can involve any number of actions, but for this lesson, we're going to organize them into three broad types of activities. First is cleaning.

Food preparation involves the entire spectrum of events - from obtaining to eating food - and most of the food that we get in raw form is not best to eat as is. So, the first step in food preparation is cleaning the food. The need for this is obvious for things like meats, which can contain harmful bacteria if not cleaned properly. In many cultures, including certain Jewish and Muslim dietary restrictions, meat is deemed unfit to eat if there's blood on it, so the cleaning stage is vital. There are reasons that cultures have such restrictions; they're based on rules for survival.

Cleaning is just as important for other ingredients as well, including natural fruits, vegetables, and grains. Most food products we consume today are not only grown commercially but are treated with pesticides or other chemicals to ensure the survival of the crop. These chemicals should be washed off of produce before consumption. Additionally, dust, natural bacteria, and trace chemicals from insects or birds can be found on organic produce.


Once the ingredients are clean, we can get to the stage of cooking. There are countless ways to heat food in order to kill bacteria, enhance flavors, and create texture, but we can classify them all in a few ways. Dry-heat cooking involves applying heat to something without liquid. Roasting, broiling, grilling, and pan-frying are all forms of dry-heat cooking. On the other hand, moist-heat cooking uses steam or liquid as part of the cooking process. This includes techniques like steaming, boiling, or poaching. Some recipes will call for you to employ both kinds of techniques, such a pan-searing a piece of meat and then simmering it in broth.

Cooking is the stage of food preparation that most people associate with the culinary arts, and there are reasons for this. Done properly, the cook seeks to accomplish many things at once. The food must be safe to eat, but it also must combine various flavors and textures in a pleasing way. It must provide nourishment, but also satisfaction. In this way, it is a perfect combination of art and science.

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